Germanwings #Flight4U9525 – co-pilot Andreas Lubitz and black box details – two annotated infographics

March 27, 2015

Reflecting on the difficulty in ascertaining the cause of many high-profile, high-casualty plane crashes, it is unsettling for entirely different reasons to know with near-certainty so soon after the incident that the cause of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 crashing headfirst in to the Alps was a depressed co-pilot who had lost the will to live and consciously took the necessary steps to enact such a tragedy.

Despite the plane exploding on impact, instantly killing everyone on board, the black box recorder has been retrieved from the crash site, albeit battered and mangled. Analysis of the cockpit voice recordings may reveal further insights in to the events of that flight, although nothing that can change or mitigate its terrible end.

Click on the graphics for an expanded view.

Flight 9525 cockpit view

Flight 9525 cockpit view


Flight 9525 black box recorders

Flight 9525 black box recorders


E&T news weekly #43 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

March 27, 2015

Friday March 27 2015

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Amazon in talks with UK government over drone trials

Amazon’s idea of using drones to deliver goods to customers certainly takes up plenty of column inches in the press and this appeared to take a step closer to reality as the UK transport minister welcomed Amazon’s approach to test their delivery drones in the UK. One problem with all this though, how are the drones supposed to get the package through me letterbox? Let alone try and leave it with a neighbour when I’m inevitably not in.

Hijack-preventing locks allowed derailed pilot to crash Germanwings flight

The latest tragic aircraft disaster had a sinister and terrible twist when analysis of the cockpit voice recorder suggested one of the pilots had crashed the plane on purpose after locking his colleague out of the flight deck. Airlines around the world are responding but implementing rules that require two people to remain in the cockpit at all times in an attempt to avoid such a scenario happening again.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Funding to save Queen Victoria’s high-tech ship

This story caught my eye because I visited HMS Warrior last year. Berthed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it/she is an important piece of Britain’s maritime history and her preservation and restoration are important for the education of future generations. Launched in 1860, she was the Royal Navy’s first iron-hulled armoured warship and represented the state of the art at the time – though, in just a few years she was obsolete, her innovative technology rapidly overtaken by further advances. That’s a story we can recognise today.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Air-purification unit for cities cuts pollution by 40 per cent

I do want to see those in London, please – everywhere if possible!

£20m to get UK rid of polluting cabs

Oh yes, I really do dream about the time when taking a deep breath in the middle of London wouldn’t mean inhaling myriad of those tiny particles known as PM10 and PM2.5 which are small enough to penetrate your lungs, accumulate there and cause problems. Thumbs up for the ultra-low-emission taxis and for the ultra-low-emission zone to be established in London by 2018.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Amazon in talks with UK government over drone trials

As an Amazon Prime customer, I do fancy a cute UAV dropping my latest order straight in the middle of my backyard. On the other hand, as someone who (just like a number of my E&T colleagues) lives between London’s two major air hubs – Stansted and Luton – and hence under the flight path of hundreds of planes, I can testify to the fact that, unlike US airspace, the UK’s skies are not simply ‘overregulated’, but massively overcrowded too. Adding hundreds if not thousands of low-flying delivery drones to that already intense air traffic is bound to lead to some serious security problems. All things considered, I would rather wait for a friendly delivery van, or even hike to the nearest post office, than risk being hit on the head not just by my very own parcel, but by the fragments of a drone. So if you ask me, Amazon would be better off testing their delivery UAVs somewhere in the desert around Las Vegasthan around Cambridge as they plan, a mere 30-minute drive from where I live.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Stricter immigration policy ‘could harm the UK in the long run’

As the UK election campaigning shifts up a gear with only six weeks to go, immigration keeps floating to the top of agenda and it’s often the background to many other issues. What does it mean for engineering? Read our exclusive investigation that finds parties rightly keen to promote initiatives to encourage young people into engineering but reluctant to talk about measures to encourage more emigrant engineers into the UK skills gap.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Sunbathers to avoid sunburns with colour-changing bracelet

Being red of hair and concomitantly fair of skin, the idea of wearing a strip of plastic as a wristband which changes colour just before exposure to too much UV light seems like a summer holiday godsend to me. Now all I need is a body sensor that warns me when my ice-cream/Flake levels are getting low and it’s time for another 99.

Yahoo could put more emotion into emails with personal sensors

Yahoo Mail, one of the world’s most popular email services, could use the sensors in smartphones to convey the feelings of the sender and specific details about the world around them. Smartwatches might constrict to indicate stress or smartphones could go cold if someone emails from a chilly place. So, no more telling the wife that you’re working late, when in actual fact you’re sinking a few at The Red Lion and chatting up the barmaid.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Government has ‘no convincing case’ for HS2 rail

The HS2 rail link between London and the North is a classic example of how engineering aspects of big infrastructure projects – and at £50bn this will be one of the UK’s most expensive – are so often outweighed by political considerations. A House of Lords committee has poured cold water on government plans with a report claiming that the capital is likely to be the main beneficiary and that a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity could be a better option. Of course, everything’s now up in the air until after the general election, but the wisdom of spending so much on a single project of debatable value is a good point for voters to raise with candidates even if they won’t be directly affected.

Yahoo could put more emotion into emails with personal sensors

You won’t have to worry about expressing your feelings clearly by thinking carefully about what you’re writing in the future, the head of Yahoo’s mail service has said, the device you’re sending a message to will do it for you. A phone could get hotter or colder, a smartwatch could tighten its grip, all to help messaging “get more intimate”. The sentiment behind email and text messages can be misunderstood, but investing in a dictionary or thesaurus would be a cheaper way of saying what you mean.

#AmazonPrime Air delivery #drones cleared for take-off, almost – an annotated infographic

March 26, 2015

Amazon, the largest e-commerce company in the US, wants to use autonomous drones to deliver packages to customers. However, it is being frustrated at the slow pace of drone legislation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), so is now testing its Prime Air system in countries more favourable to drones.

As E&T News reported recently, while the FAA has issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon business unit and its prototype drone, allowing test flights over private rural land in the state of Washington, a British delivery firm has already beaten Amazon to complete the UK’s first test delivery by drone, shipping a belt tensioner to a customer aboard a modified off-the-shelf unmanned aircraft.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the tortoise-in-treacle pace of FAA legislation has allowed companies in other countries, such as the UK, Japan and China, to get a headstart in the drones marketplace at the expense of American firms.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Amazon: droning on

Amazon: droning on

Germanwings #Flight4U9525 – the final moments – an annotated infographic

March 26, 2015

In spite of 2014 apparently being the safest year yet for aviation, planes do seem to be dropping out of the skies at an alarming rate.

The latest tragedy is the Germanwings Airbus A320 Flight 4U 9525, which crashed in the French Alps en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf.

The plane crashed in a remote area of the French Alps, killing 150 people including 16 school students. Germanwings said the plane started descending one minute after reaching its cruising height and continued losing altitude for eight minutes.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Germanwings Flight 4U 9525: final moments

Germanwings Flight 4U 9525: final moments

New book blog: Tales to stretch your credibility in in ‘Too Good to be True’ by Jan Harold Brunvand

March 26, 2015

HoweverToo Good to Be True rational you might consider yourself to be, there’s still likely to be one urban legend that sounds just plausible enough to believe. After all, these are stories are usually grounded in the truth and have evolved, often over decades, being fine-tuned with very re-telling to make them just about plausible. In ‘Too Good to be True’, American folklorist and academic Jan Harold Brunvand analyses some of the best that he’s collected over the years. It’s one of the more entertaining books that’s arrived in the E&T inbox recently and we asked 14-year-old Anya Vitaliev, who’s been interning with us, to take a look at it.

Did you hear the one about the hairy armed hitchhiker? A woman leaving work late spots an elderly lady in the back seat of her car and agrees to give her a lift… I’d better stop here not to reveal too much, but, believe me, it ends with an unexpected twist.

This, and plenty of other amusing and somewhat eerie stories can be found in Jan Harold Brunvand’s book ‘Too good to be True’. Professor emeritus at the University of Utah and the author of other books such as ‘The Choking Doberman’ and ‘Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid’, he knows one or two things about urban legends and modern folklore.

What is an urban legend? According to Brunvard, it is just a good story, which people cannot resist. Among such seemingly irresistible stories in the book, are those of the good time virus, the ghostly video tape, the shoplifter’s hat and a whole collection of other tales which you are free either to doubt or to believe in, because they are simply legends.

I particularly enjoyed ‘The elevator incident’ for its subtle irony and ‘The Guardian Angels’ for its unexpected twists.

This book is good fun for all ages – from kids in their early teens to octogenarians, who remain kids in their hearts. I can also recommend it to engineers and scientists who want to relax after a hard day in the office, for the book includes plenty of stories (legends) from the field of technology too, eg ‘The Microwave Pet’, ‘Saved by a Cellphone’ etc.

‘Too Good to be True’ is definitely good enough to put a smile on people’s faces and make them view everyday life with curiosity and wonder.

‘To Good to be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends’ by Jan Harold Brunvand is published by WW Norton & Company, RRP £13.99, ISBN 9780393347159

New book blog: Practical advice in ‘Professional Engineering Practice’ by Harvey T Dearden

March 25, 2015

Why do risk-assProfessional Engineering Practiceessment tools make good servants, but poor masters, is it time to bring back the slide rule, and would Jane Austen have made a good engineer?

Sometimes, the best education is gleaned from a conversation with someone who’s been through the mill and can give you the benefit of their experience, along with a healthy dose of humour and scepticism.

Harvey T Dearden is a chartered engineer and Fellow of both the IET and IMechE who has worked in the process industry sector for over 35 years. He’s been employed by a variety of vendors, contractors, consultants and end users and now manages his own consulting practice. As he explains at the start of this collection of essays on various aspects of engineering, “My own experience is that beyond a certain point there may well be a negative correlation between qualifications and wisdom.”

Dearden believes that engineering students are not taught about the role of engineering judgment, but are expected to acquire the necessary understanding through experience and extended exposure to good practice. That’s all very well, he says, but the right teaching can catalyse learning from experience by helping the developing engineer to distinguish good practice from bad. And once this skill is acquired, an engineer can learn from the bad practice as well as the good.

‘Professional Engineering Practice’ contains a number of pieces exploring his concerns, with examples drawn from his experience in industry. The insights into the role of the professional engineer, and in particular the nature of professional engineering judgement (what it is, how to get it, how and when to use it) will be of use to experienced readers as well as newcomers.

All in all, a useful collection of five or ten minute reads that can be dipped into or consumed in one go, and will be enjoyed by anyone wondering why Galileo’s 1633 trial is still relevant to engineers today, what to do when ‘an inspector calls’, why ‘stupid’ questions can be smart and the value of a bar stool to a professional engineer.

‘Professional Engineering Practice: Reflections on the Role of the Professional Engineer’ by Harvey T Dearden CEng is published by Harriet Parkinson Publishing, price £7.99, ISBN 9781484949979.

New book blog: Engineering meets genealogy in ‘The West Winford Incident’ by John Parker

March 24, 2015

PowThe West Winford Incidenter-station turbine failure, genealogy and the question of whether marriage will survive in the 21st century may seem an odd mix of themes for a debut novel, but they’re all major elements of a book that came about when chartered engineer and first-time author John Parker needed something to occupy him in the run up to an operation.

‘The West Winford Incident’ started life as a life story, but quickly grew into something much more ambitious. “My novel emerged from the framework of my autobiography,” says Parker. “Having time on my hands whilst waiting to have a pacemaker implanted, I decided to write a short autobiography, which quickly developed into something much more.”

The fictional version begins in the late 1960s as Neil Armstrong takes his ‘giant leap’ onto the surface of the Moon and the Harrison family prepare for a move from Birmingham to rural Wiltshire which, for them, is just as significant.

Dave, father and metallurgist, is starting a new job at the Strategic Supplies Authority. While he immerses himself in this, his wife Sue’s loneliness is exacerbated by his single-minded approach to his work and she finds herself led into the emerging hobby of genealogy.

This provides a welcome distraction from her problems, but does little to ease marital tension. Problems escalate as a catastrophic turbine failure at a Hampshire power station results in the death of a worker and leaves Dave not just fighting to defend his job but with his marriage, future and the lives of others on the line.

Parker says that although the background to the story is based on reality and the technical John Parkerdetail will satisfy even the most well-informed reader, he’s aimed to make it entertaining.

“The catastrophic failure at Hinkley Point power station still looms large and provided me with inspiration, but essentially this is a work of fiction,” he says. “I’ve attempted to explain the technical aspects of both the methodology of engineering plant failure and the intricacies of genealogical research in the pre-computer age.”

‘The West Winford Incident’ by John Parker is published by Troubador, price £10.99, ISBN 9781784621070. An e-book is available at £3.99, ISBN 9781784627591.

@Water global shortfall to hit 40 per cent by 2030 – an annotated infographic

March 23, 2015

Rampant population growth, the increasing use of groundwater for farming and industry, and the incessant guzzling of our recommended two-litre daily intake of the stuff by health-conscious hydrated humans is all conspiring to push water to the brink.

The UN has warned that if these trends continue, a serious water crisis is looming, scheduled to arrive and dessicate us all within a mere 15 years. By 2030, it is estimated that the world might have only 60 per cent of the water it needs.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Water, water not everywhere

Water, water not everywhere

E&T news weekly #42 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

March 20, 2015

Friday March 20 2015

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Harvesting solar power in space one step closer

Japanese engineering firm Mitsubishi has successfully transmitted a 10kW beam across a distance of 500 metres. While that’s a very small step towards the company’s stated target of harvesting solar energy from space, it’s actually a pretty remarkable achievement in its own right and one that must surely lead to some terrestrial applications. It will be worth watching progress on this.

Carbon nanotube membranes to ‘take over’ water purification

The world’s population is growing, and as lifestyles improve we all use a lot more water than our forebears did, both directly and indirectly. That puts pressure on freshwater supplies. Researchers at the University of Malaya believe that carbon nanotube membranes could become a cost-effective way to desalinate seawater to address the problem. There’s still a lot of work to be done before CNT membranes offer a viable solution, but in the same week we’ve seen a team at Caltech announcing a cheaper way to produce graphene, the base material for CNTs. All in all, the signs are hopeful.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Toilet turns waste into drinking water and energy

Sustainability has been taken to a new level as British researchers have designed a low-cost toilet capable of turning human waste into drinkable water and energy for people in developing countries. The nano-membrane, which separates the water molecules from solid waste and other substances, is key to the transformation, along with replacing the flush system to a ‘sweep’ mechanism, which means once separate the waste is transformed into energy. Would you drink the recycled water?

Bluetooth wristband to alert disabled bus travellers when to get off

Seventeen year-old Daria Buszta has developed a vibrating Bluetooth wristband to help improve bus journeys for the sight and hearing impaired. It has been revealed two-thirds of commuters with these impairments have missed their destination stop and also have difficulty with the on-board announcements. Approving of the idea, Baroness Kramer describes the prototype as ‘discreet, cost-effective and has a huge potential’. Winning £1,000 for her entry, Buszta will now work with local businesses to develop her prototype.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Nintendo’s first smartphone game to launch this year

Two old-school technology giants made the news this week with announcements near-inevitable in the face of a rapidly evolving tech landscape. Firstly, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has said the company is finally planning to release its first smartphone game in 2015, after teaming up with Japanese games firm DeNA in a deal that saw each party acquire a share in the other’s business. With Nintendo’s Wii U facing intense competition from Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation PS4 in the console market and with gaming increasingly going mobile, moving away from hardware consoles and on to tablets and smartphone apps, Super Mario’s appearance on an iPhone seems long overdue.

Microsoft to shelve Internet Explorer in re-branding

Elsewhere, Microsoft has announced that it will be dropping its long-established web browser Internet Explorer from the forthcoming Windows 10 operating system, replacing it with an as-yet-unnamed successor, currently labouring under the monicker Project Spartan (insert joke about a lack of useful features here). No one’s favourite web browser, Internet Explorer – or IE, to its (few) friends – has been part of Windows since 1995, around the time Microsoft started unfairly using its corporate weight and dubious competitive advantage tactics to crush rival web browser Netscape Navigator, which actually was the majority of people’s favourite web browser at the time. 20 years later, it will be interesting to see how a Project Spartan web browser fares in a world of Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Microsoft Band on sale days after Apple Watch pre-orders begin

Unlike the Apple Watch, which will only pair with fellow Apple products, Microsoft’s latest foray into wearable technology plays nicely with iOS and Android as well as Windows devices. Is anyone going to pair their iPhone up with one? The strategy MS hopes will make that happen is to put fitness at the forefront with the emphasis more on health applications than text and email. Or you could just leave your gadgets at home and go for a tech-free run. What’s the worst that could happen?

Facebook’s new payment feature to attract hackers

So Facebook claims the ability to make payment with a single tap will make sending money “more convenient and secure”. Analysts reckon gathering debit and credit card data is a necessary step on the road to embedding e-commerce in the social media platform, while security experts warn of vulnerability due to the casual approach many users have to social media security. For me, TK Keanini of security firm Lancope sums it up – “This payment system is exciting and useful to everyone – including criminals.”

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Budget 2015: key industry points

The budget wasn’t all about pensions, taxes and ISAs. Faster broadband, the Internet of Things and tidal power all got boosts form the Chancellor in case you missed them.

‘Cool’ method improves wonder properties of graphene

Caltech grows larger sheets of graphene at lower temperatures, faster.

Microsoft Band on sale days after Apple Watch pre-orders begin

Wearables are yet to find a killer application but the closest runner so far is in the health and sports arena. And that’s where Microsoft is going first with its fitness-tracking wearable out next month.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Nintendo’s first smartphone game to launch this year

Nintendo is planning to release its first smartphone game in the coming year. I think this is good news for everyone. It would be awesome for all geeky gamers, and app users alike. In my opinion, if this goes according to plan, I reckon it will surpass Candy Crush’s user numbers big time. Who wouldn’t want Mario on their phone? They’re teaming up with DeNA, the Japanese games firm, and it’s due to launch in the autumn. Everyone is going be stuck to their phone, engaged in the Nintendo world. As a closet geek, I certainly will. But don’t tell anyone.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Beetle cyborgs could push drones out of business

Ground-breaking technology or animal abuse? Researchers have created insect cyborgs by attaching microchips on flower beetles allowing them to send electronic impulses into the animal’s optic lobes and flight muscles. This allowed them to steer the beetles in flight, making them take off or hover. The team believes the remotely controlled insects could offer a cheaper alternative to drones – but seriously, isn’t it just a dangerous precedent of animal exploitation? Next year, we could see dogs and horses with electrodes in their heads running errands for people.

Drones to chase away birds from airports

It’s certainly not easy to be a wild animal in today’s world. Considered nuisance in places which may have been their natural territories just a few decades ago, birds will be pushed away from airports by falcon-like drones that cunningly rely on the animals’ instincts to flee from predators.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Layerless 3D printing technique inspired by Terminator 2

When you think you’ve seen it all, a scene like the one in Terminator 2 when Schwarzenegger oozes into existence from a puddle of liquid metal becomes possible. US scientists designed a breakthrough technique rivalling traditional 3D printing, which ‘grows’ objects from a pool of resin in minutes instead of hours by harnessing light and oxygen.

Bluetooth wristband to alert disabled bus travellers when to get off

For people without sight or hearing it can be difficult to identify the number or destination of their bus, know where and when to get off or hear important on-board announcements. The good news is that a 17-year-old science student came up with the idea of designing a vibrating wristband that links with a driver’s ticket machine and informs a passenger when the bus approaches his or her stop. It will become a working prototype this year.

#Budget2015 in a nutshell – headline facts, figures and pre-election machinations – an annotated infographic

March 18, 2015

George Osborne has unpacked his little red suitcase one more time and used his Budget to fire the starting gun on the general election campaign.

Amongst other vote-stealing tactics cynically deployed to win over this country’s more impressionable citizens – those with sieve-like memories who can no longer remember who and what got this country in to the mess it’s currently in – Osborne has announced the end of the annual tax return within the next five years, a cut in road tolls as a boost for high-mileage road-users and measures to give five million pensioners with annuities the right to cash them in from April next year.

Naturally, the open goal of showering cheap booze, fags and petrol on the nation was another pre-election gift that Osborne would have been a fool to miss and he didn’t disappoint. Back of the net.

Politics: really not rocket science.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Here votey, votey

Here votey, votey


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,969 other followers